Outbreaks of kindness

There’s been some great and inspiring outbreaks of kindness all over the internet this week, demonstrating just how amazingly selfless and supportive the arts sector is. So many brilliant people and ideas, giving us a glimpse of how humans can shine in a crisis, how much better we are when we work together, and how this worrying time could actually sow the seeds of – or even prototype – a better world.

Here’s what Talking Birds is going to do to try to help support our colleagues, friends and collaborators in the arts as we all try to navigate some of the immediate challenges this shifting landscape is throwing up. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s what we can do now.

  1. We are aiming to postpone and reschedule, rather than cancel, our upcoming work, and we will be paying all contracted freelancers.
  2. We will be making a small payment of £100 to each of the freelancers who we were planning to contact (but now won’t be contacting) about doing an outdoor arts gig or two for us in the next few months.
  3. We will be re-connecting with our former Nest Residents to see how they are doing and to find out if there’s anything we can help support them with in the next few weeks.
  4. We will be convening a virtual meeting of the F13 network of independent Coventry & Warwickshire artists to keep us connected, share information and evolve new ways for members of this vitally important network to continue to support each other.
  5. We will be putting out a Nest Virtual Residency call for artists who are self-isolating or working from home and want to explore models for how a residency at home connected to remote support and mentoring might work.
  6. We will be available to chat (by phone/Skype/email/Whats App) to Coventry artists/small companies to help them think about future projects and/or to read draft funding applications.
  7. We will be looking for creative ways that we can offer paid work to our regular collaborators and/or locally-based creative practitioners.
  8. We will not hold any companies to Difference Engine bookings for events that have to be cancelled.
  9. We will share work from the archives, blogposts, resources and conversations online with anyone who is interested (starting with the list below).

Here’s just a few of the great initiatives that have caught our eye so far this week – please do share any others you’ve seen with us and we will do a round up blogpost with them all on before too long.

Arts Council England’s Guidance can be found here: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/covid19

If you would like to connect with us about any of this, or about something else, do please drop us a line – remember it’s “Better to be twins than be cold to each other”.

 

Discursive Ability

Jazz Moreton reflects on her Nest Residency

Having graduated with First Class Honours in Fine Art from the University of Gloucestershire in 2017, I spent years finding my feet and doing little bits of (mainly unpaid) work in the arts. After moving back to Warwickshire, I began to network with artists in Coventry. When somebody mentioned the Nest residency in a meeting, I knew that I, as an artist with multiple disabilities, had to go for it!

My residency was jointly supported by Talking Birds, Coventry Artspace, Coventry Biennial, and Disability Arts Shropshire, and would lead to whatever my outcome might be being exhibited in Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art 2019.

I proposed that I, as an artist who had never worked with or edited sound, would create a sound-based piece that showcased the abilities that people with disabilities have, in the face of a government, and a wider society, that discriminates against us in many ways (my bugbear since graduation was that people still often assumed that I was stupid due to my neurogenic stammer and dysarthric speech) and, after a nerve-wracking interview with a gatekeeper-esque panel of arts professionals (who, upon getting to know them throughout my residency, turned out to be some of the most delightful people I’ve had the chance to work with), I was thrilled to receive the news that I had been selected.

My piece, which I titled ‘Discursive Ability’ at the point when somebody asked me what it was called for an interim exhibition, was my first proper socially-engaged work. Making it involved me inviting people that I either knew personally or had found through networking to my studio or going to public venues, workplaces, and houses and recording one-to-one conversations about their experiences as people that have disabilities.

7D9CC1AB-246B-4ECB-9FBA-1D2C280D5233I have lived with multiple disabilities caused by a ‘massive’ stroke when I was thirteen, and I have faced a huge amount of discrimination in most situations. However, it was easy to feel saddened, shocked, appalled by the discrimination- and even abuse- that other people told me, during our recorded conversations, that they had suffered, and do suffer, week in, week out, in Coventry. It is absolutely vital to remember that the issue of Disability Discrimination, inequality, and abuse exists in every locality across the country if not the world, and the sample of Coventry people that I selected were mostly not connected (apart from in the respect that they all knew me). It’s a bit sad that it takes an artist to start to talk about this, rather than world leaders, but there we are.

After recording a long series of fascinating conversations, I had the huge task of editing them onto one soundtrack (which took about ten times longer than holding all the conversations). Thankfully, Derek of Talking Birds is a sound-editing pro (amongst his other talents), and he was able to offer really useful advice, such as switching to a different piece of software (it’s lucky I’m a fast learner)!

It was fantastic to have a studio space that I could use for up to eight hours a day (based on bus timetables) to edit in. At the time, I was living on a narrowboat and didn’t have facilities (or, in fact, electricity and broadband) to make any sort of digital work, so the Nest enabled me to work in a way that I otherwise would not have had the chance to.

I showed the final version of ‘Discursive Ability’ in Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, which was my first major exhibition. Having my audio work displayed in ‘the Row’ has led to other opportunities, and I am currently working on an engagement project for the Midlands Arts Centre, for which I was head-hunted after their curator heard the work that I made in residence during the exhibition.

I’ve also been working really hard on scoping out other opportunities, and I have one or two personal projects at quite a conceptual stage. All I can say is that I will be back!

Jazz Moreton (see Jazz’s AxisWeb profile here!)

‘How fragile time is…’ Chloe Allen reflects on her Nest Residency

I first learned about Talking Birds when my friend told me about her Nest Residency at Eaton House. I decided to look them up online and was pleased to discover that they aim to make residencies more accessible to people with disabilities and conditions like myself. I graduated from Coventry University in 2018 with an MA in Contemporary Arts Practice and, until my Nest Residency began, hadn’t had access to a space to be able to make work for a whole year – so I knew that this would be a perfect opportunity for me and was so pleased when my application was accepted. My residency began in December 2019 and finished in February 2020, during this time I was able to further explore the effects that Narcolepsy has on my life. In 2012 I was diagnosed with the chronic sleep condition Narcolepsy, this causes me to experience Excessive Daytime Sleepiness and so I can have a sleep attack at any time anywhere. Due to my constant fatigue I often don’t leave the house for weeks at a time and so to have a work space away from home was a great motivation for me to actually get out of bed because I knew I had the chance to actually make work again. During my residency I felt content in the knowledge that I could take naps and not be disturbed, I was safe inside the studio space, I wouldn’t be in anybody’s way, taking naps allowed me to gain just that little bit more energy to then continue to make work once I’d woken up.

This residency has allowed me to further explore my ideas in relation to time being wasted due to Narcolepsy. For the past 5 years or so I had often used raising awareness for Narcolepsy as the main idea for my work but once I had graduated this all came to a sudden halt. Being in a studio space has allowed me to spread my work out across the floor and experiment with different ideas, having this space gave me the motivation to push myself further with my work thus I created 366 clay circle ‘time tokens’, had I not had the studio space I wouldn’t have been able to do this because creating something like that isn’t too easy on a cramped bedroom floor!

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To begin I started creating work in my comfort zone of acrylic on canvas, I’ve often used text art in my previous works and so knew that this would be something that I’d be pleased with aesthetically. I worked on canvas boards and the pieces were relatively small, after reflecting on this I decided that I wanted to make work on a larger scale especially since I’d got the space in the studio and so I got some plastic sheeting and bought some clay. The image of a circle was at the forefront of my mind, based on a clock. I began by creating rings from the clay with circle cutters, then cut segments from these circles based on how much time I’d wasted napping, I then used metal letter stamps to press words in to the segments, the words were the things I’d missed out on by napping e.g. family dinners, however, despite these turning out well I knew that I still wasn’t entirely achieving what I wanted. I researched into artists that created work based around time and came across Alyson Provax, her works in ‘Time Wasting Experiment’ really inspired me, she would state how many minutes were wasted and what the time was being wasted on. I could time every single nap I’d taken but because of my condition I don’t always get to choose when I nap and sometimes I don’t even know that I have napped – it’s sometimes hard for me to tell the difference between my dreams and reality because I nap do frequently. Narcolepsy affects me all day every day so I decided that I would make a circle for every day and instead of cutting out segments I would create segments on the circles with glitter. I created 366 (as 2020 is a leap year) circles, using different coloured glitter for each month. Each circle had ’24 HOURS’ printed on to them, each a token of time that we choose how to spend, the circles weren’t fired and so could very easily break, should they break this will only demonstrate how fragile time is.

The Nest Residency was so valuable to me, I was able to explore ideas, set myself bigger challenges and my importantly create work again. I also found it very useful to be at Eaton House and attend the First Thursday Drop-in, this gave me chance to network with other artists and instead of just explaining about my work as I had previously I also got to show people my studio space to that they could see the processes I was going through to create my work.

Reflecting on Cinematica at Arcadia

Rosa Francesca reflects on her recent Nest-supported exhibition at Arcadia Gallery

From January 11th-16th I was at Arcadia Gallery in Coventry for a second showing of my project Cinematica, which uses an EEG brain monitor in combination with a pen plotter to create brain-controlled drawings. Members of the public were invited to come in to the gallery and have a go at creating a drawing by trying on the Muse headband and watching the plotter work. Drawings were either kept by the participants, or displayed on the wall.

A13A92AA-9E3A-4EB5-82F5-49C5B8818B59For this second exhibition I changed the design to a sort of geometric flower that moved in a clockwise direction. I found that having a circular design benefitted the project as the pen was far less likely to travel beyond the limits of the plotter and therefore I didn’t have to keep stopping the program to reposition the pen, but also because moving in a repeated clockwise motion meant it was easier to spot variations in brainwaves. I continued to alter the design during the exhibition between visitors, changing the size and shapes slightly. I also found that there was a lot of variation between my brainwaves and brainwaves of participants, so on the third day of the exhibition I began to spend more time on calibration; I would set them up with the brain monitor, look at the programme for a while to see the values coming in from the EEG, so that I could figure out the range of their waves and adjust the programme accordingly.

One of the most interesting findings was when a man brought in his eight-year-old daughter. Although her brainwaves showed on the Muse Monitor app (the app I use to read the EEG waves via bluetooth), no data appeared in the computer programme that the brainwaves are streamed into and therefore I was unable to draw anything. Numbers either displayed as 0 or ‘-inf’. Initially I considered that this was because children’s brains are known to have vastly different EEG results than adults, as their brains are less developed. However, the next day I saw a young child of around three years old who had very clear results in a similar range to some of the adults who had visited. From this I can only guess that the first girl had just not been able to fit the monitor properly, for example if it was not tight enough or not positioned at the right height on her forehead.

B95FBE0F-B0D2-42FD-9915-60FC6963D447For the next outing I would like to improve some of the technical aspects; I need to get used to the routine of calibrating and making sure I explain properly how to wear the brain monitor, as some people had difficulty fitting the headband and therefore there was a weak connection (and in one case, non-existent). I would possibly use better quality paper, and better pens. Sometimes the ink came out too light, partly because of bad quality pens, but also because I needed to adjust motor speed so that the pen was spending long enough in one spot for the ink to reach the page. I also need to work on getting the drawings more centered so that there is more consistency when comparing drawings. It was suggested that I pick shapes such as lines that are easy to compare as well, which is something I intend to work on throughout this year.

There was an overwhelmingly positive response to the work. The majority of visitors were other artists who had found out about my work through Twitter or Instagram, and a couple of people who also worked in the City Arcade also came in to try it out. Some visitors had specific interests in plotters and fabrication so they were particularly excited by this project. I felt that it was a great opportunity to network with Coventry artists and get to know the scene. I’m excited to continue developing this project as the years goes on!

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[Photos from Rosa’s Twitter Feed @RosaFrancsArt]

“Thought provoking and engaging with a neat pay off.” [Audience Comment]

We had a fantastic time testing the new version of Capsule at the weekend and we are really pleased with how well it works!

We can’t say too much for fear of spoiling it, but see below for some of the great feedback we received, as well as a couple of teaser pictures taken by Andy Moore. But where can you buy tickets? That’s easy… Right here! Public performances start are from this Saturday to Tuesday.

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“Really impressed – it was fully immersive!”

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“Fantastic experience! A great way to spend an afternoon…”

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“A unique opportunity for audience.”

Capsule

What’s inside?

Capsule
The Box, FarGo Village, Coventry, CV1 5ED.

25th-28th January

Join us on an immersive, thrilling voyage over and under water where nothing is quite as it seems. You can expect music, an intimate story and, once you disembark, you’ll want to pass on all that you have learned.

Capsule is a unique experience for 6 people at a time, we’d love for you to be a part of it. See here for tickets and more info!

“A different kind of experience.”

Audiences for Capsule are capped at 6 people at a time, so make sure you get your tickets for your preferred time slot sooner rather than later to avoid disappointment! We can’t wait to share this experience with you, meet us inside… 

‘…a totally enclosed window for us to explore, experiment, and create exactly what we wanted…’

Ryan Leder of Theatre in Black reflects on their recent Nest Residency:

‘Loop’ was conceived between myself (Ryan Leder, playwright) and Helen Crevel (performer) on a week-long residency in ARC Stockton. At the time, we didn’t know what we wanted to make – we arrived with only ourselves, a loop station, and a copy of Duncan MacMillan’s ‘Every Brilliant Thing’. Originally, we thought we were exploring legacy, but by the middle of the week – we were talking about a subject we both felt much more personal about: loneliness.

This meant we were making a show for people who felt lonely. This meant we couldn’t expect audiences to come to us. We needed to make a show that reached our audience physically and with resonance. Walk in: Talking Birds.

Our introduction to Talking Birds was one of those wonderful accidents – I was taking part in China Plates’ Optimists scheme where Talking Birds were a guest speaker. As they spoke about non-conventional spaces and reaching audiences, I felt like the stars had aligned. I only approached them to ask for some advice, but was instead encouraged to apply for the Nest Residency. We did, it was successful, and suddenly the whole project seemed considerably more achievable.

Our residency took the form of: a week-long research and development in Theatre Absolute’s Shop Front Theatre in Coventry: a financial contribution to help with the costs of that week: access to the difference engine for ‘Loop’s tour this November/December.

For those of you unaware, Shop Front Theatre is exactly as it says – a converted shopfront in a shopping centre, now one of the most exciting and unique theatre spaces in the Midlands. The team and I personally dubbed it “the perfect place for research and development, the worst place for rehearsals” – because being there didn’t feel like work.

There was no pressure, no outside eye asking us to justify our time – we were in a safe and supportive space that we were allowed to temporarily make our own. We were literally given a key – and thus offered absolutely flexibility to work exactly how we felt necessary for the process. It was a joy to travel to that space each day – and some of the best work of my career so far took place with the city centre right outside the theatres window walls.

The financial contribution was the addition that made it feel as though the whole thing was too good to be true. So often at these emerging stages space and support can feel like all you deserve, but Talking Birds recognised the time and risk involved – and offered to take it off our hands. Suddenly the space they’d provided became not only a physical one, but one in time – a totally enclosed window for us to explore, experiment, and create exactly what we wanted for the betterment of our audience.

At time of writing, we are a few weeks away from rehearsals for ‘Loop’, and Talking Birds’ support has been integral. The show has grown and evolved in ways that we couldn’t have anticipated 2 months ago, yet alone one year, and we now feel like we have something that can truly achieve our aim of reaching audiences, physically and with resonance.

Thank you to Talking Birds.

If you’re interested seeing our show, we’ll be performing at:
The Core at Corby Cube, Nov 22nd
ARC Stockton, Nov 27th
Mansfield Old Library, Nov 28th
Arena Theatre, Nov 29th
Forest Arts Centre, Dec 3rd
Attenborough Arts Centre, Dec 5th

Ryan Leder, Theatre in Black

A Space To Hatch

Sinéad Brady reflects on her Nest Residency:

I’m a Coventry born actor and writer. I moved back to Coventry last Autumn after graduating from Institute of the Arts Barcelona with an MA Acting, where I co-founded international theatre collective Rule of Three Collective, made up of Irish, German and British theatre makers. We co-wrote the show FREE EU ROAMING, which premiered at the Dublin Fringe Festival 2018. Between leaving for university and now I’ve lived in Bristol, Barcelona, San Sebastián, Madrid and Dublin. My writing is usually a response to social injustices and societal pressures that impact the people I meet in the different cities I’ve lived in. I’m passionate about the use of language in theatre and deconstructing dominant narratives. I feel compelled to tell the stories of people who suffer due to political, historical and sociological injustices, which are often too difficult for an individual to resolve on their own.

When I moved home to Coventry Talking Birds were recommended to me by several local artists as an innovative, exciting theatre company engaged in supporting the work of local artists. When I applied to The Nest Residency, I hoped that Talking Birds would help me think about my project in visually and aurally interesting and accessible ways. I also needed space, time, support and a sounding board to work on an idea that I had been thinking about for a long time, but was unable to focus enough, or even believe in enough, while working on my own at home. A space to ‘hatch’ an idea sounded perfect and I felt reassured that with the support of Talking Birds and the wonderful opportunity of working at the Shop Front Theatre, I would make progress with my project.

On the first day of my residency I arrived at the Shop Front Theatre with notebooks, post-its and a new pencil case – I was very excited to be on my own in a black box. The Shop Front Theatre is such an intriguing space full of plays and books to read and plenty of chairs and sofas to try out, but in attempt to focus, I stuck to one corner. I thought that maybe in such a big space I would jump around too much, in my work and literally (I did bring a yoga mat) but the space was very calming. I was familiar with the Shop Front Theatre through performing at Shoot Festival in 2016, attending a Writing Gym earlier this year, and having seen many performances there, most recently Are We Where We Are. It was really useful to work in a space where I had seen performances – I found that inspiring when it came to imagining my own idea being staged and it also helped me keep the audience in mind.

I knew I wanted to create a piece of theatre exploring pressures around body image, delving deep into the language of ‘self-talk’ and the emphasis on self-care as a way of improving our internal and external worlds. I particularly wanted to focus on the competitive nature of striving to become the best version of ourselves. I had imagined creating a piece of audio that would pull an audience off track, ask them to forget about routine and consistency, to stop trying to improve themselves, to ask the questions: what does it really mean to be the best version of ourselves? How in control are we as individuals of who we are? Personally, I’m tired of being told by the media and social media that I could be working harder physically and mentally. I’m tired of being told anything is possible for everyone because, let’s face it, it’s not. I’m scared that the more we look inwards for the answers, the more we forget about the power of working together.

After three days of creating characters and plotting on post-its, I had a mentoring session with Co-Artistic Director and Composer Derek Nisbet. Derek provided invaluable feedback on my idea. We talked about different ways of recording and staging the performance. I was particularly interested in using the format of audio as a way of disconnecting from familiar, potentially addictive, images to create an intimate conversation with the audience. As I was experimenting with the idea of a character in transit, neither here nor there, it was fascinating to explore ways of using sound to show the presence and absence of people and goals. I also found it a brilliant opportunity to ask questions about how to create accessible performances, which led me to consider incorporating visual elements to the piece.
The Nest Residency was a stimulating creative experience, which I’m very grateful for. It filled me with the confidence to trust my ideas and I made great progress in a short space of time. I will continue working on the project and really look forward to sharing my developments with Talking Birds.

If you are an artist interested in applying for one of Talking Birds’ Nest Residencies, you can find out more here.